Seven Minutes With Mark Shieh Of Take Root And River Market

September 28, 2010.


We’re mighty big fans of Mark Shieh, who is not only our neighbour and co-founder of the awesome School of Chalk, but also the mastermind of Take Root and the upcoming River Market at New Westminster Quay. When we heard that he was going to be on stage at the next Pecha Kucha (Thursday!), we knew it was time to chat…

Three things about Strathcona that make you want to live there: It’s authentic, creative, historic and modern. The remix in Strathcona – of values, classes, and lifestyles – reflects the interesting hybrid culture that we have in Vancouver.

Your company is called Take Root – why? At Take Root, we dig good places. We are passionate about using real estate to do good. By deeply understanding the who and the why, we strive to build in a better, lighter, and more joyous way. Our name is also a playful reference to an exchange with my Buddhism teacher Wangchen Rinpoche. He said to me, “in Tibet we have a saying, ‘if you’re digging for water, commit to a spot and dig.’ You can’t reach water by digging a little bit here and a little bit there.” With this in mind, my then-girlfriend-now-wife Shannon and I decided to return to Vancouver and commit.

Three vital ingredients for a vibrant community: Community is people doing things together. Living next to each other makes us neighbors, but doing things together makes us a community. In this way, community is a verb. My three verbs for a vibrant community: diverge, converge, share and repeat.

What would you like to see more of in Vancouver: A vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.

What impresses you: Everyday compassion.

Favourite Vancouver bridge: The overpass at the North terminus of Main Street to CRAB Park. Even on a rainy Sunday afternoon, you can see a hauntingly beautiful skyline of our city intersecting with the railroad tracks. Stop by Raya & Nigel’s Alibi Room for a pint on your way back.

Best Vancouver park: McLean Park. With grandparents doing tai chi, hipsters playing soccer, and kids screaming through the water sprays.

One thing you’d like to change about Vancouver: Say more yes! And less no. Yes opens the door to a more imaginative and curious Vancouver.

Favourite place to see live music: Fortune Sound Club on Pender Street. Especially on Saturdays with Rob Rizk.

Cheap Vancouver place for dinner: Kam Gok Yuen on Pender Street in Chinatown. In addition to Chinese BBQ delicacies, KGY makes a delicious clear broth beef rice noodle soup.

Book you’re reading: Slow Money by Woody Tasch. I recently heard Woody speak at a Renewal event. He raises important issues about how we invest as if food, farms, and fertility mattered.

Last place traveled: Portland. I heart PDX.

Best movie ever: Eve and the Fire Horse. A Canadian film written and directed by Julia Kwan. I saw it al fresco during Urban Republic’s Gastown Drive-in.

Favourite ice cream flavour: Red bean ice cream mousse, from the Boss Bakery on Main Street.

What will the DTES look like in ten years? Let’s plan a workshop to explore this question. Inclusiveness, reciprocity, and shared prosperity should be high on our agenda.

Talent you wish you possessed: Singing. In tune.

The fashion trend you wish you never followed, but did: Miami Vice inspired blazers in hot colours. All captured gloriously in my Churchill high school yearbook.

A perfect Sunday would include: The New York Times, delivered with a cappuccino and chocolate croissant from Pane Vero on Commercial Drive.

If time wasn’t an issue, how would you prefer to go from A to B? Kicking and gliding on my Xootr.

The game you’re best at: Take Playce. One hint: big, urban games. Stay tuned.

Mac or PC: PC and Mac. But more importantly, the mighty Canadian BlackBerry.

Favourite book as a child: Doraemon manga. This time-traveling robot cat inspired me to learn Japanese.

If you could import to Vancouver one aspect from each of your three favourite cities, what would they be? New York’s chutzpah. Copenhagen’s bike paths. Portland’s farmers markets, microbrews, and microroasts. You didn’t say “pencils down”, so I’ll continue with Barcelona’s plazas and Miami’s warm water for ocean swimming.

First thing you think of when you hear the word Gentrification? Profit. Wait, that’s a trick question for developers! I do think business could and should align profit with meaning. I see gentrification in the context of change. Neighbourhoods are living organisms. They go through cycles of growth and de-growth. It’s important that we do our best to mediate this process for shared prosperity. It’s about not only value creation, but also value distribution.

An under appreciated part of Vancouver: Emily Carr University Library. Enjoy the massive magazine collection!

You are currently working on a revitalization project for River Market in New Westminister Quay, what features are you most looking forward to watching people discover about the new space? The food! We’re cooking up a culinary destination for everyday foodies. With a vision we’ve dubbed FOOD 360, guests can look forward to engaging with the full circle of food. In a more playful, passionate, and local way. Guests can pick basil from the edible garden, take it into one of the restaurants, and garnish their spaghetti sauce. River Market features Donald’s flagship store, best-of-BC food vendors, on-site food processors, a cooking school and food festivals. We’re about feeding not only your body, but also your curiosity. After your meal, you can take a juggling class on the second floor with the Vancouver Circus School! River Market. Hungry and curious.

Best garage sale score: An antique Singer sewing machine from my neighbour, Roberta.

The dish you’re proud of: Green Thai curry with tofu.

Town you were born in: Taipei.

Old television shows you can tolerate re-runs of: Knight Rider! Now I won’t be able to get that theme song out of my head.

Album that first made you love music: The K&D Sessions by Kruder & Dorfmeister.

The career path you considered but never followed: Film making. And also noodle making. Maybe Scout can give me a few lessons on how to do a great ramen-ya.

Thing you miss most about home when you’re on the road: Strathcona.

Is there a local designer or artist that you admire above all others? Marianne Amodio. She is a super talented emerging architect. She has a generous and playful we-can-do-it! spirit. She magically transforms ordinary spaces and humble materials into places of poetic beauty.

Last art show that really moved you: Hook-ness, curated by Joji Fukushima at 221A Artist Run Centre.

Favourite Vancouver festival or event? East Side Culture Crawl! It’s a super block party celebrating the arts and artists. I ask all my out-of-town friends to visit Vancouver during Crawl weekend in November.

If you could redesign any Vancouver landmark, which would you pick and what would you do? Let’s strengthen Chinatown. Let’s explore and challenge the meaning of “Chinese-ness” in our Vancouver context. It’s a complex neighbourhood steeped with history and diverse stakeholders. How Chinatown evolves will reflect our values as a society. One approach is Chinatown as a real neighbourhood, one where people live, work, and play. Make it work for locals first. Tourists go where locals go. But not the other way around. How does Chinatown better serve the needs of its diverse stakeholders, present and future? How does it stay relevant in our everyday life? We better make some more tea for this discussion…

Other Interesting Vancouverites

  • Bree

    Great interview! So many great quotes (“community is a verb”). Mark’s a real asset to New Westminster. We can’t wait to enjoy the new River Market when it finally reopens.

  • Jane

    A truly interesting chap, and a well done interview.

  • Serena

    What a cool interview. I like Mark’s ideas about community, is he really a developer? He doesn’t sound like any developer I’ve ever encountered.

  • Roxanne T

    Very much in favour of strengthening Chinatown and would love to hear more ideas!

    Also yay for the shout-out re: Emily Carr University of Art + Design’s Library. Did you know we have a Community Borrower’s program? Full details here –

    PS The oh-so-talented Mr. Joji Fukushima is an Emily Carr alumn!

  • Cato

    You say you are working on revitalizing the quay. with River Market. What a joke it has been three years and you have basically done nothing.
    What decade are you plannin g on this revitalization. The people who live on the Quay have had their quality of life hurt by your lack of efffot. Sell it if you are not interested in the community of New West.

  • Khang Nguyen

    A great article about a very interesting man. Makes me love Vancouver and the people in this city even more than I already do.

  • Jenny

    I have to disagree with the above comment made by “Cato” I recently attended an opening for Donalds market at River Market and I was really Impressed by what I saw. It takes rime to do something properly Cato – have a little faith.

    Thanks to mark and his team for having vision and for sticking it out despite they nay Sayers. I’m really looking forward to seeing everything come together.

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